The Future of Graphic/Web Design

I’m a relative noob to Graphic Design having only graduated from university in 2016. I work freelance at the moment and am doing OK with a couple of good clients, however, I do not feel confident about my long-term prospects in the industry.

How will the future advancement of online logo generators such as Tailor Brands and Web builders like Wix etc, affect the industry?

I understand that the biggest companies will probably always employ professional designers, but what about the rest?

I’m considering doing a Masters degree in hope that it might improve my long-term career prospects, and ensure that I do not become a dinosaur designer in an age where my skills and abilities are obsolete.

What should Graphic Designers be doing now, to ensure they are still in work in 10-20 years time? Are there any skills that a Graphic Designer will need that they don’t already have to be employable in the long-term?

I would be interested to hear peoples thoughts on this. Are we done for in the long-term, or not?

OK I understand your question very well. I’ve been doing this a long time. When I started there was no internet. I’ll let that sink in. Not because I was somewhere with bad upload speeds, not because the WiFi was offline. It had not been invented yet.

So how am I still employed? I adapted.

First cutting and pasting (with scissors and glue) galley bromides from a typesetting machine. Then I started to use output from word processors like WordStar. I would print them out at 2x size, reduce them to size on a process camera, then spot out the negs.

When Quark Xpress came out (I’m skipping ahead a bit here) I jumped on it as a way to create a design. The first install disk was a single floppy, there were 8 fonts (bitmapped, not PostScript) there was no way to add pictures and no colour.

Every time the software upgraded and added new features, I learned a bit more. I learned to use each new piece of software as it came out. I learned new skills in colour theory, type design, print processes, print finishing, anything I could.

Along the way there are skills I learned that I don’t use anymore. But I keep learning and adapting. I’ve never been out of work for long.

I have no idea what this industry will be like in 20 years time but I know I will have the skills to do the job.

TL;DR - Keep learning new stuff and stay interested in what you do. Your only essential tool is your imagination.

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StudioMonkey gave you an excellent answer.

The only thing I’d add is that a masters degree probably isn’t as important as a killer portfolio. Do you need a masters degree to get a killer portfolio? I don’t think so, but that’s your call. The one thing the advanced degree might help you with would be getting into a teaching position if you ever wanted to do that.

Yes. StudioMonkey is right.

I’ve been in this business for, um, 40 years now. Critical thinking skills and aesthetic sensibilities haven’t changed much, but everything else has changed — sometimes multiple times.

Most people don’t make it in this business, and most don’t stay in it because the profession, at some point or another in their careers, passes them by.

When I started out, only bigger companies hired graphic designers. Smaller businesses couldn’t afford them and didn’t figure they needed them. The last few years have been something of an aberration as both the need for and supply of graphic designers has increased. I wouldn’t be surprised if supply and demand pressures pull things back into a balance that better fits the historical norm.

I can’t predict the future with any certainty, but my best guess is that services, like those you mentioned, will eat into the lower-end work that some designer do.

Larger companies and businesses that depend on their visual image, however, will still need designers. Off-the-shelf solutions won’t work for ad campaigns. Strategy-driven branding and marketing can’t be automated. Custom interface development to accommodate all kinds of thing will still exist.

If I were just starting out, I’d always keep in mind that (1) radical change is a certainty and that (2) keeping up with, embracing and being one step ahead of that change is essential. Finally (3), I’d not waste time on small-time clients. The money, the future and one’s longevity in this business lies in going after the bigger clients and employers who have a vision of the future and are eager to embrace it.

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Great post StudioMonkey, thanks!

I can’t see myself teaching anytime soon, but I suppose it would be good to have it as an option in later life.

I think the way things are at the moment, with the industry being so competitive, anything you can do to separate yourself from the pack is worthwhile.

I work from home and would do a practical masters, so essentially it would be just another big year-long project I could work on in my spare time.

Just remember, with that Masters Degree, you are competing against those with Bachelor Degrees.

Unless they are specifically looking for a Masters Degree hire, those who do the hiring are gonna look at that Masters and may decide they can’t afford to pay you, without even knowing your asking price. With all those Bachelor candidates for less money (in their eyes) why bother with you? Might be a win win though as you may not want to work for a place that doesn’t recognize the Masters degree.

I always recommend not doing the Masters in Graphic Design though. A complimentary field would be far better.

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As long as there are clients that appreciate good design, there will be work for graphic designers. DIY design is fine for start up clients who have zero budget, but there are clients who will always prefer to hire a professional.

I graduated with a degree in GD in 2004 and have absolutely no interest in getting my Masters. I was an employee for over 10 years but have been freelancing full time the last 2 years. I think experience and portfolio are far more important than a Masters. In fact, I don’t think many of my freelance clients care I have a degree, as long as I can do the work. Employers care about degrees, but I don’t think a Master is important for graphic design.

Taking initiative is probably the key selling point as a freelancer.

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Glitchin, I’m assuming you have the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in design and live in one of the so-called (and probably mislabeled) “developed” countries?

I’ve stated here several times that I think my MFA was largely a waste of time, but I’ve never fully explained why or why I still think a master’s degree is a good thing to get.

My BFA school, University of Utah, had a good, well-respected undergraduate program. My mistake was, out of convenience, returning to the same school at my employer’s expense to get an MFA in what was, at the time, a terrible graduate program. I had worked professionally for about ten years, and found myself knowing more about the real world of design than either of the two academically minded professors on my graduate committee. It was a two-year exercise in patience dealing with those jokers.

That said, I’m strongly in favor of getting master’s degrees because, as you said Glitchin, it will improve your long-term career prospects. Twenty or thirty years ago, bachelor’s degrees weren’t strictly needed, but today that degree serves as a differentiator that, in the minds of many employers, separates a serious designer from the hoards of amateurs. Projecting that trend forward, it won’t be too long before a master’s degree becomes the credential that separates the serious professional designer from the less serious ones — at least in the minds of employers and HR departments.

A master’s degree likely won’t help you get that first or second design job for all the reasons Print Driver just mentioned. But ten or 15 years down the road you will have put in your time, won your share of awards and been promoted up the ranks a bit. Eventually, you’ll hit a ceiling (like it or not, in most companies and agencies, graphic design is a lower- to mid-level job).

About this time, if all goes well, you’ll be thinking about that creative, communication or marketing director VP position. But you’ll find yourself competing against people with master’s degrees in business, marketing, advertising and other related fields.

By this time, you’ve paid your dues, never stopped learning, done everything right and you know mental terabytes more than the newly graduated MBA idiot with the artificially whitened mouth full of smiling white teeth, you’ll be competing against. Unfortunately, the clueless upper management people who make hiring decisions for things they know nothing about will pay a whole lot more attention to their fellow MBA (or whatever) than to you — a not-quite-trusted designer who, in their minds, has a silly art degree.

I’ve seen it happen dozens of times, and it’s just going to get more and more competitive in the years to come.

If you’re really serious about your long-terms prospects (and you should be), what I would do is take your BA or BFA (or whatever) and work as a designer for about five years, then head back for a Master’s degree in a related field, like advertising or communication or some sort of impressive-sounding degree with a bunch of letters that will make it appear to the upper management bozos who will be interviewing you that you’re not some head-in-the-clouds artsy, fartsy lightweight who gets all emotional over silly things like colors and paper texture.

The mistake I would avoid making (from personal experience) is heading back for an MFA in design — even though those three letters have served me well. A degree in a complementary related field is the way to go. In the long-run you’ll stand a much better chance of getting that high-paying job where you’ll get to lord over those silly (but talented) artsy, fartsy designers still stuck in their lower-paying and less-respected design jobs.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are people who make very good money and are very successful doing nothing but design and who start up successful agencies or land multiple million-dollar accounts. But this is the rare exception and certainly not the rule. Instead, to maximize the chances of those long-term prospects you’re looking for, get that master’s degree sometime within the next ten years.

I’ve just summarized 40 years of my experience doing this stuff, but feel free to ignore it (at your own risk, of course) After you make your first ten million dollars, euros, pounds or whatever in a couple of decades, feel free to send a small check to whatever rest home I might be in at the time. :wink: :thinking:

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I have a Masters. It got me all sorts of part-time teaching work, which was good supplemental income when I started out freelancing, but no design work. Current clients absolutely do not care about my degrees. Maybe that’s just the nature of freelancing, and it would be different for a full time staff position somewhere. The only thing they care about is whether I solve their current problem.

In terms of personal growth though, the MA benefited me enormously. The emphasis that was pushed on me during the BA was about memorizing how to do stuff. The MA dealt more with the why of design. The thing that one of my professors said that really turned my head around was “You don’t have to know the answers, but you do have to know how to ask the right questions that lead to answers, and that’s what the MA teaches you.”

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Thanks, PD.

Since I started this thread I have spoken to a friend who is also my best client. This guy is the sole founder and current partner of one of the top digital agencies in the UK. He gave me a couple of possible subjects he believes would enhance my career prospects in the longer term.

The subject he was most enthusiastic about was Data Visualisation. He thinks this would be a very good route for me, so over the next few days I will be researching this and if I feel its the right move I will start working on a proposal to distribute to the local universities in the coming weeks.

I’m a very practical person, this hasn’t always been the case but I have two young children so any move I make has to count at this stage in my life. However, I would also get a great deal of satisfaction from gaining a masters degree as I did when I completed my bachelors.

Thanks, Mojo.

I think gaining a masters would do a lot for me personally, as my bachelor’s degree did. I think differently than I did before university, and I feel I’m a better person for it.

Without getting into too much personal detail I did not have the best upbringing (hear those violins?) and people from my background are not expected to achieve anything in life. So while my primary reason for any career move I make will always be to improve my career prospects, and my ability to provide for my children, I also am on a life-long quest to better myself and prove people wrong!

I would love to gain a PhD as well, but that’s a life goal and I’m not sure I’ll ever get around to it, as making money has to be my main priority.

Thanks, B!

I have a bachelor’s degree, yes, and I live in the UK.

I agree. Here in the UK, more people are going to university than ever before. In my dads day if you had a degree you were guaranteed a job, today that is not the case at all, so having a masters in most industries is a big plus. This might be truer in other professions than it is in design, but still.

I am very serious, but as a mature student who got serious about life late, I don’t feel I have the luxury of waiting another five years.

I have a friend who is one of those lucky designers who came along at the right time when the web was a new thing and a very ugly new thing at that, and built a big agency off the back of making it prettier lol I could have worded that better but you get the point.

I spoke to this friend yesterday and asked him what he thinks would be a good route for me and he gave me a couple of avenues to explore, and one of these was Data Visualisation. I have already talked about this in a little more detail in my reply to PrintDriver.

A link to a video on Data Visualisation for those who are not familiar with the subject:

I appreciate all the replies, thanks.

In that case, I completely agree with you.

I’ve seen many students who immediately begin their master’s programs after completing their bachelor’s degree. By the time they finally finish their schooling, their reference points and mindsets are so firmly rooted in academia, that they have a great deal of trouble applying what they’ve learned to the business world. It’s helpful to get a dose of non-academic reality before embarking on a master’s program.

As an older student, though, I suspect you’ve already had your dose of reality, so my observations do not apply.

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Just a couple more random things…

You and others have touched on this, but a huge benefit of a master’s degree is the personal growth and satisfaction that comes from it. It’s an experience that is quite literally life-changing. Despite me referring to my graduate program as a waste of time, it was only a waste of time in that I did not learn much about design. I did, however, learn a great deal about myself and how I fit into this profession, which was unexpected and totally worth it.

As for data visualization, it’s something that has always fascinated me for all the reasons mentioned in the TED talk. I think it’s definitely a growth area because of its potential use in business and research. However, the reason it’s set for growth is because so much information today — especially numerical information — is in or can be easily extracted from databases.

Unfortunately, from a designer’s viewpoint, this makes the whole field highly susceptible to software automation. We use Tableau at work to turn statistics and spreadsheet information into easily visualized patterns, and for numerous reasons, it’s invaluable. I’d be very cautious about entering this field as a designer who might soon be replaced by software templates, but if you can figure out a way into the field as an information architect, strategist or entrepreneur of some kind with a visual design background, it just might work.

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Isn’t “data visualization” just a fancy way of saying “infographic”?
Not something on which I’d want to stake my future career.

On the other hand, if you are into the analytical part of data, rather than just the display of data, there is probably a lot to be said for the study of internet data tracking as it pertains to marketing.

I think it’s much more than that, so just for the sake of an example…

Let’s say we have a magazine client. This client is concerned that so many of their subscribers let their subscriptions lapse. They’re looking for a strategy to get new subscribers.

They have tons of data since all their subscriptions are handled by computers. Using a data visualization application, we can easily extract patterns from that data. We know from their data that any one-year subscription only has a 70 percent probability of being renewed. However, if we look at a ten-year period, we find that 85 percent of their new subscriptions actually come from people who had, at one time or another, subscribed during the past ten years, but who had let their subscriptions lapse.

When we plot those re-subscriptions out on a bell curve, we find that the peak period for re-subscription is 25 months after their previous subscription lapsed and that 75 percent of re-subscribers do so between 8 and 36 months. Furthermore, the data indicates that those re-subscribers who lived in more affluent zip codes (base upon property valuations) re-subscribed, on average, 4.5 months later than their neighbors in slightly less-affluent zip codes.

Following all that made-up stuff I just invented isn’t important. My point is that this kind of information is buried in the numbers in ways that are very difficult to recognize without using a data visualization application. So using my made-up example, if the magazine is about to launch a subscription campaign with a very limited budget, the data would indicate that they might have the highest probability of success by targeting the low-hanging fruit, which in this case isn’t new subscribers at all. Instead, it’s previous subscribers who let their subscriptions lapse between 8 and 36 months ago. The data might also indicate that they might want to segment the timing of their re-subscription drive to coincide with the zip code data differentials that unexpectedly popped out when visualizing the numbers.

Really, all this is just the tip of the iceberg. This magazine might even be advised to do a test sample to see if the projections inferred from the data analysis held up to the actual results. Toss that information into the data visualization application, and even more specific and surprising patterns might become obvious that allowed the magazine to be even more efficient with their marketing budget.

This kind of data mining is a game changer with huge amounts of money at stake. When the patterns are hidden away as numbers in databases and spreadsheets, they’re difficult to recognize. But when those same numbers are tossed into a data visualization application, all kinds of obscure but important bits of information become readily apparent that would likely never have been noticed otherwise.

Now as a designer, I don’t think there’s a whole lot of sustained opportunity designing unique ways of displaying pie charts, fever graphs and bell curves, but there are tons of opportunity in the bigger picture of mining and visualizing information.

Nitpick: unless you started in 1969 when the internet officially came online, you probably mean there was no web browsers when you started. And that’s only if you started before 1991.

But we all know what you meant. The web wasn’t important to most graphic designers until the mid 1990’s.

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I predict that graphic design and web design will eventually go separate ways.

Web design might eventually be called something other than “web design.” The term is a misnomer. The web was already designed pretty thoroughly by Tim Berners-Lee. The only changes to that design come in the form of W3C changes to standards. What we graphic designers are doing is graphic design for web sites. When we are working with code, we are either doing graphic production, or software production. Graphic design might be the most obvious part of a web page, but it’s one of the least critical part of what should be called “web site design” if it’s not merely a part of “web page design.” And it’s a smaller percentage of what goes into making web pages effective.

Graphic design never was (nor ever should be) considered a technical skill. Sure there are techniques to producing graphics. But the real measure of a graphic designer is in imagining effective graphics, not producing them. You will always have technical snobs telling you why what you imagine will not work. But the real challenge is imagining effective graphics that have never been seen, not how to produce what is imaginable. The latter is a “graphic engineering” skill.

Graphic engineering might be a critical part of graphic design, but it doesn’t have to be. The ideal situation is a graphic designer that imagines the seemingly impossible working with an engineer who knows how to make it possible. Some would argue that the technical skills will expand a designer’s imagination. But a separate engineer can always tame or educate the designer as needed. The team will create synergy like a dual core processor. An old friend who worked at Ogilvy Mather told me that it’s easier to cast a line farther out and reel it back to where it needs to be than push it further out once it’s been casted.

There comes a point where technical certainty can hinder creativity. A person can be so immersed in solving the technical difficulties of current times, they can spread themselves thin having less time to imagine what might be possible in the future, or even overlooked possibilities of seemingly obsolete technologies of the past. As jobs become more scarce in every field, employers will eventually recognize that a designer/engineer team will be more productive and cost-effective than both a designer and engineer in one person.

Long-term, both graphic design and engineering by humans will be obsolete, but graphic designers will be the last to go. The engineer will be an artificial intelligence. As soon as AI learns to entertain humans better than humans can entertain themselves, that will be the end of graphic design by humans. But humans might already be extinct by then.

Generally, an MA or MFA is considered the terminal degree for people making visual art. A doctorate would be more appropriate for art history or art education, and might be an obstacle to you getting hired to create graphic design, if that’s your goal.

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